Last night I left my house in the same flustered, "I am running late and need to get this show on the road ASAP" way I always do. Because of said flustered state I forgot to take a whole lot of necessary items with me, including the lipstick I was currently wearing (the inability to re-apply is not OK), the book I intended to read on the train (a Podcast sufficed but Jon Ronson would have been better) and my notebook (I intended to take notes at the thing I was going to). I also forgot my little makeup and medical bag I try to have with me at all times (but obviously don't) that includes things like sticking plasters, Nurofen and, yes, tampons. I found myself buying tampons from a 7-11, and do you know how much one pack of 20 tampons costs from a 7-11? $10AUD. Which, considering it is a necessity of life for half of the population is fucking ridiculous.
Tampons are expensive because they are considered non-essential products in most Western countries including Australia, unlike condoms, personal lubricant and nicotine patches which are considered health products. As luxuries, sanitary products are taxed, while condoms, personal lubricant and nicotine patches are not.
As Dazed and Confused report, the debate over this tampon tax has just been reignited in the UK, as tax cuts have been made to beers and spirits, but not to women's sanitary items. They point to 21 year-old Laura Coryton, who took to 10 Downing Street recently armed with oversize tampons, to try to convince the government to repeal the 1973 law which instituted tax on sanitary items. "Sanitary tax came from a male-dominated parliament in 1973, and it needs to be fixed by Parliament," Coryton explains. "Unfortunately this is yet another example of high-profile politicians shrugging off a issue associated primarily with women."
The debate is heating up again in Australia, too. There is a new Change.org petition (after one failed to gain 50, 000 signatories back in 2013) to end the taxation of sanitary products, and we should all sign it.
The petition was launched by Tsuno, an online store that sells sanitary pads from which 50% of the profits go to helping women in developing countries. The plight women in developing countries face goes some way to explaining why A) sanitary products are essential health products, and why B) ending taxation on sanitary items would help to remove the social stigma around menstruation – you know, all of those uninformed "that time of the month" jokes.
The United Nations considers menstrual hygiene a human rights issue. When women get their periods in developing countries and can't afford sanitary products, they miss school and risk health complications. UNICEF believe "1 in 10 school-age African girls do not attend school during menstration", while the World Bank believes girls are absent from school for "approximately 4 days every four weeks". Worse still, a Voice of America study, called Sex for Sanitation, found "half of all girls in the slums in Kenya has sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins".
This research clearly demonstrates that sanitary items are necessary for women to live full lives which include things like oh, I donno, going to school and going to work. Surely half the population of the world working and studying is preferable to them not.
This makes my complaint about paying ten bucks for tampons in Australia seem kind of pathetic, but that's because I can afford them. Many low income women in the West can't. Furthemore, by considering sanitary items luxury products in the West, we're reinforcing the social stigma around menstruation.
While menstruation is this totally normal, if unpleasant, thing that most women experience most months, so as to achieve the casual goal of the continuation of the human race, it's rarely discussed in popular culture. When it is discussed it's anthropomorphized into this ugly beast (breakouts!) with a terrible personality (mood swings!) who stays inside all the time (practical implications!). The way the Shocking! Tampon! Scene! in 50 Shades of Grey was treated by the media and everybody in the world who read the book (but not the film because it had to be removed for that, of course) is case-and-point of this: we normalized S&M (which is totally cool by me) but we couldn't normalize periods? This stigmatization is even more prevalent in developing countries, where mothers and daughters often can't even have conversations about menstruation, so the daughters go on to suffer the aforementioned consequences of being ill-informed and ill-equipped.
There are worldwide negative consequences to considering sanitary items to be luxury items, which, clearly, they're not. Sign the petition so we can get the government to admit it already.
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